The Effects of Puberty on the Athletic Performance of Female Athletes

Before puberty, boys and girls can compete with each other in sports. Around the age of thirteen changes happen to boys and girls. Women will see changes in their body composition and skeletal structure. This does effect athletic performance, but this is only temporary. Once the body has finished growth performance can improve and the body will stabilize if trained properly. Puberty is a stage in the human life cycle  in which a child’s body matures into an adult body capable of sexual reproduction. The assumption is when girls become women, acquiring physical skill is impossible for them. This is not true, if training is done and discouragement does not overtake a young female athlete.While a grown woman may not be able to compete with a grown man at elite levels, women can still improve. Puberty effects women’s bones, body composition, and metabolism.

Females just like males have a growth spurt. The skeleton will grow, but there is some difference. Girls will see their pelvis become wider. Total bone density will peak around this time and girls will have less compared to boys. Wider hips means that speed would decline from what it once was. The pelvis is much wider in the female body. The center of mass decreases in women’s bodies. This would give females the advantage in gymnastics. This explains while even though women are closer to men in lower body strength, their total running speed would be slower. A girl may actually find easier to run faster in her youth.High school  female athletes who participate in track and field at 17 and 18 may reach their peak. Women have a longer running stride due to bigger pelvises. However, weight training can build bone density. These changes may seem  like nuisance, but they are natural and temporary. It is obvious that bone cells are the same for both sexes. Men just have more density.Girls at first grow taller, but by the time of maturation, on average men will be taller.   Women’s joints are looser, which explains greater flexibility. As a girl athlete matures in a woman athlete she must be mindful of ACL injuries. The anterior cruciate ligament injuries are higher in women athletes, due to anatomical structure of the legs. This can be prevented with improved training and neuromuscular  techniques. As a female athlete it is pivotal that bone health be maintained.

Healthy Children Flexing Their Muscles --- Image by © Corbis
Up until age 13, there is very little body composition difference in boys and girls

 Body composition is pivotal to athletic performance. Girls will start at puberty producing more body fat due to an increase in estrogen. Hormonal changes mean it will be tougher for women to gain muscle mass. Although it appears that this is a disadvantage, that may not be completely true. Estrogen could allow for greater body temperature control. Women have fewer sweat glands than males. This means it would take them less time to cool down in high temperatures. This is an advantage in marathon running. Greater amounts subcutaneous fat provides more warmth in cold temperatures. This would be an advantage in swimming and skiing. Extra fat  does effect weight bearing activities such as running and chin-ups. The inert load provides extra challenges. Males gain more strength from rise in testosterone levels. Women do not see this unless they train vigorously to gain strength. Estrogen does still produce an anabolic hormone of GH. Protein synthesis does function the same in both males and females.


By age 13 strength levels begin to boost for boys and total bone mass will be done for both sexes by age 18.Peak muscle mass for women occurs around the ages 16 to 20. Males continue this development till age 25. Women will usually weigh less than men due to the difference in size. Endocrinology explains why a difference in physical strength emerges.When girls become women they will start their menstrual cycle. This is known as the as the menarche. A girl will experience this first cycle around the ages of 13 to 14. The reason for the shift in body composition is due to the possibility of fertility. At this stage women will have to be conscious of body fat levels. If fat levels get too low amenorrhea could be fall an athlete. This condition is the absence of the menstrual cycle. Secondary amenorrhea  can be caused by excessive exercising, over training  or extreme weight loss.


The cycle lasts 28 days. Prior to menstruation, women will experience PMS ( premenstral syndrome). This includes some headache, aches, and slight breast enlargement. The endometrium will shed, due to low levels of female sex hormones in the body. Blood will be expelled from the vagina. This is commonly referred to as the menstrual period. The endometrium will thicken due to higher levels of estrogen. This is called the proliferative phase. The last stage involves higher production of progesterone causing the endometrium to thinken once more. It is now ready for an embryo. If the egg is not fertilized it will die. The corpus luteum dissolves and the endometrium disposes of unwanted material. Then the process will start over. Although it appears that this process causes some discomfort, it should not hinder athletic pursuits.

         Metabolism does change for girls. This refers to the chemical interactions in a cell. This includes growth and repair processes in the cell. Girls as they mature into women, will find it more difficult to lose weight. However, fat may actually be useful in endurance events. Fat could allow for the storage of glycogen and carbohydrates which are critical body fuels. While the change in physiology is noted in girls and boys, many studies on metabolism focus on grown men. Examining women in regards to metabolic function is still relatively new. What is known is that the average woman has close to 29% body fat. The male body only carries 17%. Fat levels are similar for both boys and girls during childhood.

Basic changes during puberty  

Women do not have broad shoulders, which means less opportunity to add mass. Women’s arms are shorter in length. Girls once they become women will have to train harder to maintain muscle mass.

       Girls when they become women will see changes in athletic performance. Body fat will have to be managed and upper body strength will have to be built up depending on which sport. It appears that boys will gain more advantages, but girls seem to have the advantage in some sports. Although there is a change in endocrinology, it does not limit potential. Some girls may stop their athletic activities, because they feel there is no hope of improvement. Cultural pressures may discourage them as well. There is no need to have such feelings. Having proper coaching, training, and diligence can improve performance.


Goswami, Basuli, et al. “Impact of Pubertal Growth on Physical Fitness.” American Journal of Sports Science and Medicine 2.5A (2014): 34-39.

The Effects of Puberty on the Athletic Performance of Female Athletes

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